Scene Selection and Narrative Drive

So you’ve written an outline and now you’re sitting down to script an issue. In my experience you’ll almost always have a surplus of scenes (especially if you’re scripting a single issue from a series).

Which scenes you choose to showcase in the script is a fundamental decision all writers face and one that defines our ability as storytellers. An art form unto itself reserved to the individual, difficult to explain and teach.

The most common direction in this arena is:

“Always keep the story moving forward” or “focus on the narrative drive.”

But how exactly do you recognize narrative drive and keep the story moving forward?

My best advice here is to look at what stops a story?

If you’ve been following my site, or already have some good writing chops, you know plot is the specific expression of a story–a distinct sequence of events.

Any scene/page/panel not leading the reader to the next event, not setting something crucial up, or not revealing a “key” piece of information, is slowing the narrative drive.

Of course if you go off on a tangent–if you write a scene that has nothing to do with the story at hand, it should be cut.

Let’s say your hero is a detective, his sidekick has been kidnapped and the villain is about to release thousands of radioactive alligators into the city.

You have a scene where the detective steps into an Indian restaurant for dinner and someone recognizes him—he’s famous after all. The two have some witty banter, the detective gives an autograph and the person pays the detective’s bill. Although the scene is a showcase for the detective’s character, and potentially the setting of the city and tone of the book, at best–it’s a weak scene (we’ll get to this in a second)—the scene has nothing to do with the story and is killing the narrative drive deader than the detective’s last murder case victim.

The idea with scene selection and narrative drive, is not to get bogged down with elements that aren’t truly important to the story.

And here’s the rub.

As creators, very close to the material we’re writing, we often view everything under a light of importance. After all, we know the whole story and most likely, know the characters more intimately than anyone else.

You have to be very objective when assessing a scene for its value to the story.

Recognize the Love Letter Scenes, scenes that focus in on some specific element of the story that we just love, regardless that it isn’t really relevant to moving the story along. Usually it’s a showcase scene of some cool aspect of a character’s personality, gear, power, or some minute detail of the story setting.

The Disconnected Scenes (discussed above)…

And Weak Scenes

The weak scene is typically the most troublesome.

A weak scene has some form of relevance or narrative drive.
It forces the writer to say is this good “enough” to leave in?

As with the detective example above, character development is a crux of good storytelling. Revealing the setting, tone, atmosphere, are all also important to a good script. So the scene actually does have value…

But ultimately, a weak scene is wasted space.

It’s like renting out an entire ballroom for two people to play a game of chess.

* Always keep in mind a comic book is a highlight reel to a much deeper story. *

As a highlight reel, showcase scenes that are from the main event… the big show… don’t show stuff that happened in training (unless it’s so gripping, it just can’t be overlooked).

The highlight reel is the best of the best.

Many writers don’t get this concept. They integrate a lot of “stock” or average scenes… unimportant or unimpressive scenes, simply as a vehicle to set up and lead the reader to their more dramatic scenes. (usually their turns and climaxes)

Don’t use weak scenes to lead the reader to strong scenes—MAKE EVERY SINGLE SCENE A STRONG SCENE.

You can assess every scene/page/panel for any of the elements of story and structure (discussed on this site and in the book). In the reality of freelance writing with ever looming deadlines, you’ll most likely have time to gauge only a few.

Beyond evaluating each for progressing the story/plot forward, assess each scene for its tension, suspense, conflict and drama.

If these elements are nowhere to be found, you’re probably better off cutting the scene completely and investing your time elsewhere.

If these elements are a bit on the low side, see if you can rework the scene into something more engaging.

Ideally you want all your scenes to contain multiple story/structural elements to high degrees. If you work out a scene with high tension, high suspense, high conflict and high drama, the reader is going to be glued to the page.

If you have a scene that is critical to the story, but contains fewer story/structural elements, amp them up.

The fewer elements, the more potent and powerful they must be to carry the scene.

If you have a two page scene revolving primarily around suspense, but your suspense is coming across low and weak—you’re dead in the water–your reader just put your book down to go hunt Pokémons.

The last thing I want to note on scene selection is overall PACING of the book. Pacing is extremely important in comic scripting—I’ve got a chapter devoted to it in the book.

Narrative drive often works in direct tandem with pacing.

If your pacing is off…
if you’ve got three consecutive scenes focused on character development and dialogue, it’s likely your narrative drive is running out of steam… on the flip side, if you’ve got three action scenes back to back (especially if they’re not resolved action scenes), there’s a good chance the story isn’t moving forward as strongly as it could.

Narrative drive is usually strongest when there’s a solid balance in the pacing of a script… Ebbs and flows of consistent story progression. ▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.


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